Facebook’s reputation may take another hit after a market watchdog classified its investigation of racial bias at the company’s hiring process as “systemic”.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has designated its investigation into Facebook’s hiring process as “systemic” following allegations of discrimination, according to attorneys speaking with Reuters. The attorneys represent three job applicants and a manager who allege that the hiring process at Facebook is discriminatory.

The EEOC is a US federal agency that deals with workplace discrimination complaints and has the ability to file civil discrimination law suits against employers on behalf of individuals. Typically cases are dealt with through mediations and settlements before investigations are launched, but systemic cases involve an in-depth assessment of the issue in question across the whole organisation.

A “systemic” probe means the agency suspects company policies may be contributing to widespread discrimination.

The charge was originally brought to the EEOC last year, with one Facebook employee and three applicants claiming that the company is biased against black job candidates. The complaint said that the company’s hiring policies “adversely affect the opportunities of Black workers and applicants”.

According to Reuters, systemic investigators were brought in by the EEOC before August 2020, with both sides providing detailed briefing papers. The publication highlighted that the EEOC itself had not brought allegations against Facebook and that the investigation may not uncover any wrongdoing.

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As of July 2020, 3.9% of Facebook employees in the US are black according to the social media giant’s annual diversity report. In comparison, according to the most recent US census completed in 2019, approximately 13.4% of the US population identifies as black or African American.

The Menlo Park-headquartered company’s latest diversity figures were criticised after they revealed only a modest increase in the number of female, Black and Hispanic hires over the past year.

Earlier this year, Google reached a settlement with the US Department of Labor, with the company paying $3.8m to 5,541 engineers and applicants over “systemic compensation and hiring discrimination” affecting female and Asian workers.

A senior manager at Amazon has filed a lawsuit against the ecommerce company, along with two colleagues and one former co-worker, over alleged  race and gender discrimination.

Read More: Amazon bosses take short break from counting money to fight unionisation.